The turmoil within Liberal Democrat ranks over Lord Rennard deepened last night after Nick Clegg admitted that allegations of sexual harassment were a factor in the peer's decision to quit as the party's chief executive.
To the dismay of MPs, the Deputy Prime Minister dramatically altered his explanation for Lord Rennard's surprise resignation in 2009, which had previously been blamed on ill health.
The furore sparked by claims that Lord Rennard propositioned as many as 10 young activists has convulsed the party, raised fresh questions about Mr Clegg's leadership and hit its campaign for today's by-election in Eastleigh.
The peer has strenuously denied the claims.
Quizzed yesterday about Lord Rennard's departure, Mr Clegg said: "He left on health grounds but the issues of his inappropriate behaviour were in the background, of course they were."
The leadership's changing accounts in response to complaints about the peer were condemned by its MPs. One MP said: "The handling of this whole affair has been just dire."